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All I Want for Christmas

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

I can imagine the delight of some little girl upon receiving this wonderful doll sometime in the mid-19th century. At 28" tall, she would have been quite a handful for a little girl! With her sweet face, blue eyes and black curls, she is a lovely doll. She also wears a beaded necklace, a dress with two petticoats, and white leather shoes with buckles.

Being curious about her origins, I searched the archives for information. I didn't find much--she had a "found in collection" accession number of 19xx-427, which meant that she was already in the collection before the first formal inventory was undertaken.

But we have other ways to learn more about dolls, and even though it seems wrong, I undressed her to look for more clues. Eureka! Attached to her back was a maker's label reading "GREINER'S PATENT HEADS, No. 10 Pat. March 30, '58."

A little work on Google, Ancestry and GenealogyBank yielded more information. This doll was made by Ludwig Greiner (1805-1874), a German immigrant who lived and worked in Philadelphia. The city directory listed him in 1840 as "toy man." The 1850 Federal Census lists him as a "paper machinist,", but in 1854 an advertisement in the Sunday Dispatch shows that he is selling "dolls heads, arms and toys" at his store. The 1858 patent was for "improvement in constructing dolls' heads." The heads were made from linen-reinforced papier mache and then painted with oil paints. It seems likely that he sold the heads, and the buyers would create their own bodies and clothing at home.

Ludwig's sons joined him in the business. In the 1850 census, his eldest son Amandis is also listed as a paper machinist. By the 1860 census, His sons Lewis, Edward and William are all listed as doll makers along with their father. The Greiner fame didn't end here, though. A 1997 series of US Stamps, called "Classic American Dolls" featured one of Greiner's dolls.

Am I too old to play with dolls?

Contributed by Betsy McKee, LHS Board Member

Originally published December 30, 2021

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